Cowboys' top priority?


Go with a guard

MacMahon By Tim MacMahon

This is about players, not necessarily positions.

Cornerback might be a bigger need, but offensive guard Carl Nicks would be the best upgrade for the Cowboys in free agency.

That probably won't stop the Cowboys from making the same mistake they did with Terence Newman -- paying a pretty good cornerback Pro Bowl money.

This isn't a strong free-agency crop of cornerbacks. Kansas City's Brandon Carr and Tennessee's Cortland Finnegan are the best of the bunch, and neither is an elite player.

Carr, 26, is the only intriguing young corner on the market, but he wasn't even the best corner in Kansas City. The Chiefs opted to give Brandon Flowers a six-year, $49.4 million contract extension before last season. Now, Carr is likely to get that kind of deal due more to demand than his skill.

Finnegan, who made his lone Pro Bowl in 2008, is probably already nearing the end of his prime at 28. The team that gives him a lucrative, long-term deal is probably going to end up in the same predicament the Cowboys did with Newman, whose play dropped off drastically in the third and fourth seasons of a six-year deal.

The Cowboys already have one overpaid corner in nickelback Orlando Scandrick. Mike Jenkins is going to cost a lot more than that to keep. If they replace Newman with a free agent, the Cowboys will wind up as an average group that ranks among the NFL's richest cornerback corps.

Nicks, who has already established himself as arguably the game's best guard at age 26, will be a good value. Not that Nicks will come cheap. He wants to be the highest-paid guard in NFL history, and you can guarantee that some team is going to grant his wish. He's likely to land in the seven-year, $60 million area. Unlike the corners who will command similar salaries this spring, Nicks will be worth every dollar.

Guards age a heck of a lot better than corners. If the Cowboys sign Nicks for seven seasons, it's a solid bet that they'll get seven great seasons from him at a position that is also a glaring need.

The Cowboys clearly need to address cornerback this offseason. They can do it in the draft.

Alabama's Dre Kirkpatrick, who should be available at No. 14, might be a better player than Carr and Finnegan right now, anyway. He'll definitely be a lot cheaper.

Cowboys need corner(s)

Watkins By Calvin Watkins

Here's all you need to know about the Dallas Cowboys' cornerbacks in 2011: Linebacker Sean Lee had as many interceptions (4) as Mike Jenkins, Alan Ball, Orlando Scandrick and Frank Walker combined.

It's assumed Ball and Walker will not return in 2012, and Terence Newman -- who tied Lee for the team lead in interceptions in 2011 -- might not be back.

The Cowboys have a problem making plays on the ball in the secondary, so when free agency starts Tuesday afternoon, the travel department better find first-class tickets for Brandon Carr and Cortland Finnegan.

Signing either player should help a Cowboys secondary that clearly lacks playmakers. Yes, the pass rush is important in terms of pressuring quarterbacks to make hurried throws, but the cornerbacks and safeties need to pick passes off.

Last season the Cowboys were 2-0 when they had three or more interceptions in a game and 4-3 in games in which they picked up just one interception. Coach Jason Garrett said winning the turnover battle is essential to success in the NFL. It's really the only statistic the Cowboys coach talks about on a regular basis.

We're not sure if the Cowboys have the talent necessary to pick passes off. Jenkins played hurt most of the season, Scandrick regressed from his 2010 form and Ball and Walker just weren't consistent enough to stay on the field for long stretches. Newman played well the first two months of the season, but he lost his confidence as the season progressed and was picked on by opposing quarterbacks.

The Cowboys' safeties, especially Gerald Sensabaugh, played well at times, but a sprained foot stunted Sensabaugh's performance and Abram Elam was average too many times in 2011, raising questions about whether the Cowboys want to bring him back.

New secondary coach Jerome Henderson brings an attitude to the team that has been lacking. Nothing against Dave Campo, the respected former secondary coach of the Cowboys, but it seemed the players tuned him out at times. It happens. The Cowboys probably needed a fresh voice to challenge the secondary, and they have it in Henderson. Adding another playmaking corner -- Finnegan has 24 pass breakups over the past two seasons and Carr has 35 -- should help.

If the Cowboys keep the status quo again, 2012 will look like 2011, and nobody should be happy with that.


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